Televised game show, Starcade, brought the early 80's arcade scene into living rooms
Starcade was a half-hour televised game show from the early 80's pitting two teams against each other in an arcade game competition. This came at a time when home console gaming was taking hold. The Atari 2600 and Intellivision consoles were on retail shelves and the Colecovision had just come onto the scene.
The Starcade website launched in August 2011 to celebrate 30 years of STARCADE! Sept 1981 to Sept 2011. It provides streaming video of many of the episodes! I spent countless weekends at the Electric Playhouse across the street from a Burger King and at a nearby Nathan's Restaurant that had a dozen arcade cabinets. Starcade revives so many memories of my early 80's arcade days!
Originally airing from Dec. 27, 1982 to Sept. 1984 on TBS (Turner Broadcasting System, launched in 1976) Starcade later went into syndication on the G4 network. A total of 60+ episodes and a few pilot episodes were created. Some sources claim 130+ episodes, but considering it only had a 2-season run, I'm wondering if the 60-episode figure is more accurate. It was produced by JM Production Company who later tried to duplicate the format in a new show, The Video Game. The new show only lasted one season.
The first Starcade pilot was taped in the summer of 1981 in San Francisco with on-time host Mike Eruzione (famous for scoring the game-winning goal for the 1980 U.S. Men's Olympic Hockey Team vs. Russia). Nolan Bushnell, creator of Pong and owner of Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theatre, held auditions in several of his restaurant's locations. The pilot aired on several TV stations in California in Sept. 1981 and became the prototype to sell the concept to NBC television and ultimately to Ted Turner, owner of TBS. The format was different from the coming seasons. This early version featured 3 rows of 8 players each playing on their own separate arcade cabinet.
Each row featured a different game. The first one featured eight Defender cabinets, the second featured eight Centipede cabinets, and the third featured eight Pac-Man cabinets. Each player had 30 seconds to accumulate a score. The player with the highest score out of all eight on their team would play against the other two highest-scoring players on a different arcade game - Berzerk. The grand prize was their very own Asteroids Deluxe arcade cabinet and an Apple ][ Home Computer.
Additionally, the winner got to play Donkey Kong (a very new game at the time) against a celebrity. This round was just for fun. The pilot featured Larry Wilcox, from the popular TV Show CHiPs. Unfortunately, Will cox wasn't a gamer and didn't appear to have ever played an arcade game prior to his appearance.
An obvious challenge for televising this early format was filming the game screens without interfering with the player and avoiding the screen's scan lines. On top of these issues, the pilot featured 24 contestants, all playing at the same time on 24 separate games! This probably led to the more manageable format that was ultimately broadcast. The show's theme song was changed to one composed by Mindseed, who were employed by Data East at the time. The final Starcade show aired on February 24, 1984, with reruns airing in syndication until September 1984. TBS then reran shows of Starcade on Sunday mornings until January 1985.
Be sure to watch some of the episodes on the Starcade website! They may bring back some great memories form a great time in the heyday of video game arcades. It's also fun to see all these now-vintage arcade cabinets in brand new condition. Those were the days! :)